Chandler Council takes stand against housing project - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Council takes stand against housing project

December 19th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Council takes stand against housing project
Community
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By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

The plan to build more than 500 affordable housing apartments in South Chandler may not be dead, but it suffered a serious blow this week during a City Council meeting last week.

The Council on Dec. 5 voted unanimously to back a resolution opposing the Landings at Ocotillo project that is expected to be considered by Maricopa County officials next month. The 7-0 vote puts pressure on Supervisor Jack Sellers, who represents the Chandler area on the board.

“We’re disappointed,” said Owen Metz, the senior vice president and project partner for the Mountain West Region for Dominium, the developer hoping to build the Landings project.”

The Council Chamber was filled with a standing-room only crowd, most of them there to oppose the Landings project. Opponents claimed to have collected more than 3,000 signatures on a petition.

“We need to recalibrate,” Metz said. “We already went through the 14 sites and I feel like we’ve done our due diligence, and then … he told me we didn’t do our due diligence, it’s frustrating. It’s too bad that they made the decision.”

Metz said about half of the 14 sites city officials suggested as alternatives were 5 acres or less. The site they want to build on is 24 acres.

A couple of council members, Matt Orlando and Christine Ellis, criticized Dominium for not doing more to communicate with neighbors and work with the city. The 14 sites are alternative locations city officials suggested instead of building the Landings project on Ocotillo, just east of the railroad tracks near Arizona Avenue.

The city planning staff is already on record opposing the project. Council member Mark Stewart requested the resolution and vote to bring added pressure and in response to overwhelming calls from neighbors to do something more to oppose the project.

With Chandler approaching buildout (currently at about 93%), there are not many areas with 24 acres of available land left. So, Dominium has few options.

The Landings project would comprise 518 units of affordable housing, something the city has said it is in desperate need of. The price for the units would be set by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. Metz said they were hoping it would be starting at about $1,000 a month.

Rent.com says the average price of a studio in Chandler is $1,345, a one-bedroom $1,589 and a two-bedroom $1,985. Metz said the typical residents would be teachers, firefighters and others who are being priced out of living in Chandler.

The Landings units would be split into two types, 182 for senior living and 336 family units.

The leaders of the neighborhood group opposing the project say they don’t object to affordable housing. Their main issues are that it does not comply with the city’s master plan, or its airport plan and that it will increase traffic to an area that is already dealing with traffic problems.

Because this plot of land is an unincorporated area of Maricopa County, and not part of the city, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has the final say. Still, if it is built the Landings would rely on city services for water and trash, so their opposition is expected to play a role in the final decision.

Metz admitted in an interview before the Dec. 5 meeting that their project would increase more traffic than an empty field generates. However, he said the traffic improvements their development would bring would likely be welcomed by the neighbors.

And, he argued, at some point something will be built there. If it’s a warehouse there might be large 18-wheelers coming in and out of that location, which would also impact traffic.

Dominium Apartments is one of the largest developers of affordable housing units in the nation. The corporate headquarters are in Minnesota, but they have been operating in Arizona for years. They have built or have plans to build other complexes in Mesa, South Phoenix, Buckeye, Surprise and Chandler.

Two former Chandler seniors said it is needed in the city.

“I was a resident of Chandler for nine years, and I had to move out of Chandler a year ago when my rent went so high I couldn’t afford it,” said Ron Yoshimura. He said he was paying $800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and his rent doubled. He said he moved into Dominium’s senior housing in Mesa and complimented them for giving him a great place to live at an affordable price.

“Most of the people that I spoke to in our complex, they’re saying that this is the last place they’re gonna live,” Yoshimura said. “When they leave, they’re gonna leave feet first. So that’s the way I feel.”

Judi Hahn said she was living near the Chandler Airport and was paying $1,800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment with utilities included.

“I can no longer afford to live there,” Hahn told the Council. “My income, I’m in a very fixed income. And we found [Dominium’s Mesa apartments]. They accepted me and I’ve lived there now for almost eight months. I’m one of those that will go out feet first. I will never leave. It is the greatest thing for somebody of our age.”

Orlando admonished the developer for a poor job of communication, saying he tried to reach them to do his due diligence and was still waiting on a return phone call.

Dominium’s backers promised to hold a neighborhood meeting to address the neighbors’ concerns before Christmas, something Orlando said should have happened already.

Ellis blasted Dominium for not doing more to work with the city, including taking a look at those 14 alternative locations offered.

Kevin Mayo, the city’s planning administrator, said it was not his staff that met with Dominium. He said he thought it was someone from the City Manager’s office that offered the 14 alternatives. An email trying to confirm that and Metz’s characterization that they agreed those 14 sites would not work was accurate has not been returned.

Metz said after the meeting they would honor the promise made during the meeting to hold a neighborhood conference before Christmas so they could address the concerns head on. No time or date has been set so far for that meeting.

The next official action is expected Jan. 12, when the County Planning & Zoning Commission considers the case.

Metz tried to address many of the concerns of residents in an interview with the SanTan Sun News before the Dec. 5 meeting.

“Our typical resident is a single parent with a kid or two. They’re working and can’t afford the higher rents,” Metz said. “We have a very thorough process that we have to do to qualify anyone who shows up to rent from us. It’s arguably more difficult than qualifying for a mortgage.”

He said that all residents must sign a pledge not to be involved in drugs or crime. One violation, and they’re out. Metz said because they are getting a discounted price on rent, and it will be almost impossible to find similar housing elsewhere, they rarely have problems with residents.

The city is in the process of increasing its public housing units, with hundreds on the way. A final number has not been determined. Many of the 300 current public housing units will be replaced, so some will just be moving from an older facility to a newer one.

Public housing is a program where residents who qualify pay up to 30% of their monthly income for their unit, with the federal government paying what’s left. Affordable housing differs in that residents pay the entire amount, but the price is capped by HUD.

Metz said the City of Chandler has not had any new affordable housing projects added in 21 years. He said the Landings project would be affordable housing.

Chandler Unified School District pointed to the lack of affordable housing as one of the reasons it is preparing for lower enrollments in the future. During a presentation earlier this year, they said younger families could no longer afford to live in the city and were moving to places like Avondale and Maricopa to find affordable housing.

Without young families, there will be fewer children to educate. The district has put together a commission to look at how they want to repurpose eight schools to prepare for declining enrollments.

Metz said everyone is in favor of affordable housing, but not in their backyards. The problem for developers like Dominium, is that they have to be built in someone’s backyard.

“At the end of the day you get them to say, ‘Yeah, I know we have a problem’” Metz said. “But then they say, ‘Well, can you just move it over there?’”